The Green Party unveiled a policy yesterday to build hundreds of new state homes for people living in cars, garages or on the streets.
The Government was at least prompt in striking back, as Finance & Housing NZ Minister Bill English and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett launched a tirade claiming Housing NZ was already building more homes than the Greens proposed, the Government was sourcing more social houses from community housing providers, and the Greens’ policy was “rushed”.
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the homes not cars policy would allow Housing NZ
to retain its dividend and would refund its tax, freeing up $207 million in the next financial year to spend on the emergency building of about 450 new state houses: “We have a housing emergency in this country, happening right now, and our plan is an urgent, direct response to it.
“This plan isn’t the silver bullet for our housing emergency, it’s just the start, but the bottom line is we need the Government to build more state houses, not sell them off, or pretend the problem doesn’t exist. It’s shameful that in a wealthy country like New Zealand we have so many people sleeping in cars, in garages & on the streets.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. The Government has the power & the money to ensure every New Zealander lives in a warm, safe, dry home – it just lacks the will.
“It’s ludicrous that we have around 4500 people on the Housing NZ waiting list, but Housing NZ is forced to prioritise paying the Government millions of dollars in dividend & tax.
“All of that money could & should be put towards building state homes and housing vulnerable Kiwi families – the Government just needs to make it happen.
“The housing crisis is felt hardest by people who have the least. We need the Government to prioritise finding a home for people who have nowhere to live. People living in garages, in cars & on the streets is not the kind of country most New Zealanders recognise or want.
“We need the Government to show some compassion & common sense, and build more houses for our most vulnerable New Zealanders to live in.”
Mr English & Mrs Bennett said: “The Government takes seriously its responsibility to provide suitable social housing for our most vulnerable. We have made it a priority to deliver more social houses by speeding up Housing NZ’s development programme, and sourcing more homes from community housing providers.
“Nationwide, Housing NZ has 924 houses contracted or under construction. In Auckland, 589 properties are currently under construction or contracted for delivery this year and Housing NZ is negotiating for the delivery of a further 55. Housing NZ has identified opportunities for a further 1319 and is progressing work to get those underway.
Additionally, it is nearing completion of a programme to rebuild 700 quake-damaged properties in Canterbury.
“Social housing spaces are not limited to those provided by Housing New Zealand. Community Housing Providers are on track to deliver a further 508 places in Auckland, backed with long-term rental agreements from the Government.”
The 2 minister used the criticism to put attention on council consent processing & the Government’s aim for local government & resource management reform, saying “Housing NZ faces the same planning constraints as any other developer and can only go as fast as the current local planning rules allow”.
Mrs Bennett added: “The Greens’ policy is a slogan, not a plan. We’re already building more than they propose, and they haven’t put aside funding to actually put people in those houses. Social housing is incredibly expensive, especially in Auckland, and the Greens’ policy doesn’t add up.
“The Greens oppose Housing NZ moving tenants out of old homes to put more properties on large, underused sections. Without using existing land, it’s not clear how they would build properties in Auckland within their budgeted figure, when it costs Housing NZ significantly more.”
Mr English said the Greens’ policy also hadn’t accounted for the ongoing cost of subsidising the rent, which for 450 properties mostly in Auckland would be about $28 million over 4 years.
“The dividend is not the issue, and is the normal way successive governments have used to place a discipline on Housing NZ to use its $19 billion of assets well in delivering suitable housing where it is most needed.
“Taxpayers spend over $2 billion every year supporting those New Zealanders most in need with their accommodation, including almost $800 million subsidising social housing tenants’ rent – most of which goes to Housing NZ.”
Attribution: Greens & ministerial releases.